The Future of Mobile

MWC – The Visitors’ View

David Murphy

The dust has just about settled on another Mobile World Congress, and will stay settled on the Fira, as the show moves to a new venue next year. We know what we made of this year’s event – big, vibrant, as overwhelming as ever, with Google stopping visitors in their tracks once again, Nokia announcing its comeback, and RIM doing its best to convince sceptics that it’s not in need of one. 

But what of the companies and individuals attending the event? We put the feelers out to gauge feedback to the show from visitors, exhibitors and other interested parties.

Millennial Media says its suite on the avenida was packed throughout the conference with companies from across multiple verticals asking key questions in two distinct areas. “The first came from companies that were attending MWC for the first time and looking for a rapid introduction into the world of mobile, and assurance that they could efficiently integrate mobile into their marketing mix,” says Stephen Jenkins, marketing director, EMEA, at Millennial. “The second group of questions came from companies who have invested in mobile for some time and were looking for specific ways to improve their results and address a higher quality audience.”

Staying with mobile advertising, James Connelly, managing director of Fetch Media, notes that: “Brands and mainline agencies were there in force. It was the first year I had noticed a wider mix of senior attendees from brands, showing the wider interest, which is great for our industry.”

This, in fact, was a recurring theme among the mobile ad companies I spoke to at the show. Almost all, including Adfonic, Mocean and adsmobi, told a similar story. They were seeing a lot more mainstream media agencies on their stand, and the questions these people were asking showed a much deeper level of understanding, than in previous years.

Brands were similarly well represented. Ford became the first automobile company to exhibit at the show, and Val Christopherson, a mobile veteran of almost 20 years, who today runs Global Results, representing the interests of a host of mobile marketing firms, including the Mobile Marketing Association, says: “The show created a dynamic opportunity for legacy industry companies to mix with the next-generation companies entering the market, creating a nice blend of realism and innovation. I believe the show will continue to diversify to include more and more vertical markets as we clearly saw automotive, health, commerce presence at the show."

James Lamberti, who left InMobi recently to join 41st Parameter, also noted a change of mood. He says: “There was a palpable change in the atmosphere from the telco, tech and manufacturing vibe of earlier years to business-building and deal-making. It's no longer a struggle to grow, but rather how to grow faster than the other guy with economics that work.”

Mobile engagement
Location was a key theme at this year’s event, a point noted by Rip Gerber, president and CEO of Locaid. “For operators, MWC was all about capacity: LTE, small cells and wi-fi offload,” says Gerber. “But for marketers, MWC was all about increasing the relevance of and returns on mobile engagement, with location as the biggest breakthrough capability. 

“Wireless operators have become marketer-friendly. Brands are now geofencing stores to push hyperlocal offers; banks are now authenticating credit card purchases using mobile device location; enterprises are now tracking assets globally in M2M…all utilizing permission-based location from the wireless operators.  By allowing developers to pinpoint the location of any mobile device type, anywhere, without GPS and without battery drain, the operators have opened up tremendous opportunities for marketers to render every campaign, every engagement, for every customer, 100 per cent location-relevant.”

Margaret Glover-Campbell, senior vice president, marketing & external relations at another location-based firm, Poynt, says the company had an amazing week at MWC, but believes that for location-based services to go to the next level relies on the consumer. She says: “I began my career in LBS over 12 years ago when the battle for technology supremacy raged between TDOA and GPS. A lot has changed for us as an industry since then - much of it industry-led but consumer-driven. The most prevalent example for me is consumer demand to own the content on their devices that was spurred on by the launch of the app store.

“At the 2012 edition of MWC, on the panels in which I was a participant as well as a spectator, there was a good healthy debate among participants about where we see the industry heading and what we believe to be the emerging trends. It’s truly refreshing to be part of an industry with such clear direction and a seemingly unified voice when it comes to topics we are driving forward such as privacy, mobile payments and monetization of the mobile platform. And the industry is making huge steps forward. But after all is said and done, I wonder when consumer demand will catch up with these initiatives, and whether that's what we, as an industry, need for another sea change to occur.”

The Mobile Fringe
Helen Keegan, a regular contributor to Mobile Marketing’s publications and events, used this year’s MWC as the springboard to launch her Heroes of the Mobile Fringe Festival, a combination of on-and off-site events offering a slightly less formal take on mobile marketing, something that many would argue MWC needs. “The Heroes of the Mobile Fringe Festival was very well received, and I think people responded to the range of events on offer - from large to small, from discussions and recordings to lunches, dinners and parties,” she says. “I know that connections were made and deals were done.”

As for the main event, she says: “The show was bigger than ever and busier than ever, and that made it harder than ever to navigate in many respects. It's still so very hard to spot the companies you should be talking too. There were some truly beautiful stands, but I'm stumped if I knew what they did for a living. It's tough to get stand-out. Although passing traffic possibly makes up for it.

Russell Buckley, a free agent again after his stint at Eagle Eye, describes the Heroes event as: “an idea whose time has come. All the events I went to or Chaired were well attended and excellent. There seems to be a huge appetite for companies to do something slightly more relaxed and away from the Fira.”

Elsewhere, Buckley laments the lack of a really big announcement, and the no-show by some important players, such as Apple and Amazon. He also says that the show felt more corporate and less entrepreneurial than in recent years, and found it curious to hear operators whingeing about declining SMS revenues in the face of free messaging apps.

“This is reminiscent of record execs back in the day about Napster, and the circumstances are the same - i.e. cool companies busting up a cartel which makes far too much money," says Buckley. “The margin on SMS is huge, and operators haven't innovated. The issue is going to accelerate rapidly and disrupt the industry. Successful operators need to change their strategies.”

But the last word goes to Alex Rahaman, CEO of StrikeAd, who singles out Google’s stand for praise, is baffled as to why RIM put a Porsche on theirs, but, echoing the thoughts of many, says: “It’s a real shame the venue will be moving from Fira - nothing can beat the fountains and Palace setting.”

You’re so right Alex. Say what you like about the event itself, but as an exhibition venue, the Fira knocks most into a cocked hat.

To read the analyst, Chetan Sharma’s take on Mobile World Congress, click here.